Belfast City Hospital tower earmarked for coronavirus surge

The tower block at Belfast City Hospital will be set aside for 230 coronavirus patients, Stormont’s Department of Health has said.

Critical care capacity will also be boosted at the Ulster Hospital in Co Down and Altnagelvin in Londonderry.

The Eikon event centre on the site of the former Maze Prison near Belfast is under consideration to further increase the number of beds available later this year in preparation for any further wave of Covid-19.

Northern Ireland’s health system has increased its ventilator total to 165. Further orders are in place and being actively progressed, the department said.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I fully recognise the challenges these emergency arrangements will present for staff, with new ways of working and in many cases a new workplace location.

Robin Swann (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I am determined that we will do everything possible to support them and their colleagues across the health and social care system as they take on the many challenges that Covid-19 brings.

“We owe them all a debt that can never be repaid. I also give a commitment that the trade union side will be kept informed as the plan is rolled out.”

Around 3,000 people could die in the first wave of an infection spreading at a rate expected to peak in about a fortnight, official modelling shows.

The distinctive City Hospital tower will be staffed by a team drawn from across Northern Ireland, the health authorities said.

The department said: “Establishing this Nightingale facility will require significant temporary reconfiguration of existing critical care provision across our hospital network.

“Work is in train to make necessary infrastructure alterations within the tower block. It will also be necessary for a proportion of current non-Covid patients in the tower block to receive their care in an alternative location.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

At present the Mater Hospital in north Belfast is taking the city’s coronavirus patients.

Surge planning is being informed by modelling made public by the department.

Unused MOT vehicle test centres are expected to be transformed into drive-through coronavirus test centres.

Mr Swann added: “It is important to emphasise again that this modelling work is not a prediction or forecast.

“All modelling necessarily carries a level of uncertainty. It is therefore prudent to plan for a scenario beyond the reasonable worst case. That is what we are doing.

“The best way to ensure our health service can cope remains for everyone to stick firmly to the social distancing measures now in place. That message cannot be repeated too frequently or too forcibly.”

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